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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 31 January 2016
I read this because I loved W.I's review of Steve Jobs. (And knew not much about Jobs before that point.)
This is a fine time to read this book if you are at all interested in Einstein as it is the hundredth anniversary of his publishing the General Theory of Relativity.
This book is a history of Einstein. It steers clear of much of the meats and guts of his theories apart from in superficial terms to allow you to get a small measure of appreciation of the mans work.
It's well written and will appeal to students of history and physics alike.
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on 13 February 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs which encouraged me to read his biography of Einstein. Again, I found it a very enjoyable read. As one might expect, there is a lot about particle physics and despite Isaacson generally avoiding mathematical explanations, I must confess I didn't follow all of it, but even the during parts I didn't fully understand, my interest didn't waver because it gave one a sense of the enormous intellectual challenges that Einstein was grappling with. There is also plenty about his personal life that was also interesting.
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on 25 April 2008
This is an excellent Einstein biography. I really love it; a real page-turner, completely captured my attention for several of days, until I finished with a sensation of wanting for more. No doubt it was very well researched, and includes new details uncovered from Einstein's letters recently made available for the public. Very well written, and Isaacson ability to explain complex science is outstanding, although my guess is that more than a bit of basic knowledge of physics is required to fully grasp the scientific discussions of relativity, quantum mechanics and the like.

The book is particularly insightful in recounting how Einstein developed his theories, just with thought experiments; his rebellious attitude toward authority of any kind; his endless fight against quantum theory (now I do understood what he meant and why he died thinking that God does not play dice); the controversies and interactions with the other scientific giants of his time; and his failure to develop a unified field theory, all of these aspects leading smoothly to the understanding on how he developed not only his revolutionary theories, but his philosophy about science, education, politics, and God. Also, the book goes into deep details on how he went from apolitical to an activist on Zionism, and from a pacifist to a supporter of the US entering WWII; his limited but key role on the US development of the atomic bomb, and afterwards, his regret; closing with his stand against McCarthyism. And because nobody is perfect, the biography shows his main weakness, throughout his life he was a lousy father and husband.

Coming back to the science, I had always been curious in understanding how Einstein came up with his theories without experimentation; even Newton did experiments to develop his laws. This biography explains in minute detail how he did it through his clever thought experiments. Also, the recount presented provides a good idea on how science progresses, from Einstein's fight against the prevailing paradigms in the beginning of his career, to Einstein's stubborn skepticism against the new paradigm he himself contributed to develop, quantum mechanics. Also I found fascinating how the more he used his thought experiments in trying to falsify quantum mechanics, the more the theory got reinforced. A good example on how the real scientific method works, illustrating the importance of an open debate for science to get closer to the truth. Also a really good historic example for those who believe that scientific theories can be proven by consensus.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in modern physics, cosmology, the history of science, philosophy of science, or just Einstein's admirers.

PD: Finally, a word of advice for some readers in order to avoid disappointment based on the majority of positives reviews. Me and the other reviewers who gave five stars to the book might have been carried away, but I think it is very likely that most of us have a decent background on physics, and/or have read a lot about cosmology, or just have a good grasp of hard sci-fi. Readers have to be aware of the complexity of several of the scientific explanations. So, despite Isaacson's clarity in explaining the science, some parts of the book are not Carl Sagan stuff. If you have read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", or Paul Davies' "God and the New Physics", or any similar books on modern astrophysics and cosmology, and didn't like them, couldn't understand much, or simply got bored, then this caveat might apply to you. But if you are really interested in Einstein's life and achievements, my advice is to try and just skip the more technical parts, the book is still very interesting without the technical stuff.
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on 13 August 2015
Easy to read but well-researched life of the great scientist, which made me whistle in astonishment at just how marvellous Einstein's intuition was for the way the physical world works. Few human beings have been blessed with such incredible creativity, and this book brings that out in some detail and in ways that other biographies of Einstein I've read haven't. The great man's personal life was sometimes in rather a mess, but he comes across as a kindly - if detached - and sympathetic man. It's rather sad that the development of quantum uncertainty left him behind.
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on 7 May 2015
A most enjoyable and fascinating book. I did not understand all the physics but I know I am not alone in this. The one demerit for me is the author's Americanisms in his writing. And what of Einstein's will? Did he make one and who were the beneficiaries?
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on 24 April 2012
An interesting biography of a very complex man. I found it very difficult to follow all the discussions around relativity, time, space and physics in general, nonetheless I'm sure Isaacson made a great job of describing Einstein's break-throughs in this field.
Easier to read and somehow more valuable are the parts about the private Einstein, the one who never got around to visit his very sick son and that only in later age managed to establish a reasonable relationship with his elder son. What comes out from this lengthy biography is the picture of a difficult man, aloof from every day's practical priorities and bent to to find a mathematical demonstration of his theories. A man fundamentally incapable for most of his life to show love and affection for anybody, not even his closest relatives, yet incredibly sharp in appreciating and postulating formidably difficult problems. Extremely well documented, this book manages to correct some of the myths associated with Einstein - such as his role in the development of the nuclear bomb or his controversial relationship with the Jews and the state of Israel. Isaacson does a great job to provide insights into less known happenings in Einstein's life, like his love for publicity hidden behind a not completely genuine - and much stereotyped -behavior of the wild haired genius who prefers to work alone in his attic studio. Some readers will be disappointed, but I think Isaacson does justice to the man, to detriment of the myth. At over 700 pages, a long and at times tiring read.
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on 16 February 2009
Isaacson's book is beautifully written, brilliantly researched, and sympathetic to its subject without disguising Einstein's (minor) human shortcomings.

The scientific ideas are explained without complex mathematics, and the scientific background to Einstein's radical thought experiments is well described. Also interesting is Einstein's growing identification with his Jewishness - his reaction against anti-Semitism - as are the (failed) attempts by various political groups to enrol him in their causes. And I was happy to learn that his favourite pastime after physics and playing the violin was sailing, at which he was endearingly incompetent.

Specialists may want to read Abraham Pais' "Subtle is the Lord", the rest of us will be well satisfied by this biography.
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on 9 April 2014
walter isaacson is the epitome of biography writers. marvelous prose and lucid insights into the life of a most remarkable man. even the difficult aspects of relativity are made clear for the uninitiated reader. not easy to put the book down.
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on 27 January 2012
Buy this book. Incredibly well written and researched. Everyone should read about Einstein, out of all the books that I have read, this is by far the best. Apart from his own works. Looked forward to going to bed with Einstein every night. Inspiring, wonderful man.
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VINE VOICEon 14 April 2013
This is a very fine biography of Einstein; it is both comprehensive and succinct and gives a clear sense of Einstein as scientist, political activist, friend and family member. His scientific achievements are naturally covered in detail, but in an approachable way; I'm not a scientist, yet I found it fairly easy to follow Isaacson's descriptions, and his explanations helped me to appreciate the magnitude of Einstein's scientific achievements. The character study is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book; Isaacson gives a clear sense of Einstein's complicated relationships with his two wives, children, step-children and work colleagues and opponents, exploring the ways in which he was able to find refuge from domestic problems in his scientific work, from which little could distract him. His deeply-held political views are also thoroughly explored, and his opposition to nationalism, pacifist instincts, and reflections on human nature are very thought-provoking and highly relevant today. Highly recommended.
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